Trip report: Borneo (June-July 2012) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Sam Woods.

Whichever way you look at it, this year’s tour of Borneo was a resounding success: 297 bird species were recorded, including 45 endemics. We saw all but a few of the endemic birds we were seeking (and the ones missed are mostly rarely seen), and had good weather throughout, with little rain hampering proceedings for any significant length of time. Among the avian highlights were five pitta species seen, with the Blue-banded, Blue-headed, and Black-and-crimson Pittas in particular putting on fantastic shows for all birders present. The Blue-banded was so spectacular it was an obvious shoe-in for one of the top trip birds of the tour from the moment we walked away. Amazingly, despite absolutely stunning views of a male Blue-headed Pitta showing his shimmering cerulean blue cap and deep purple underside to spectacular effect, he never even got a mention in the final highlights of the tour, which completely baffled me; he simply could not have been seen better, and birds simply cannot look any better!

However, to mention only the endemics is to miss the mark, as some of the, other, less local birds create as much of a stir, and can bring with them as much fanfare. Take the hornbills for example, none of which are confined to Borneo. However, this island does provide rare opportunities to see EIGHT species of hornbill and we took full advantage. Between Danum Valley and Sukau we got all eight, with the score (i.e. 20) of Rhinoceros Hornbills feeding on fruits low beside the boat at Sukau, a sight so striking and appealing it won the top trip bird title by some distance. The bird is so large and impressive with its jaffa orange horn, and the views of them were so amazing, coupled with the sheer spectacle of that many feeding there it was hard to argue with this selection, even with the star-studded cast of competitors vying for the title. The trio of White-crowned Hornbills at Danum was also popular for their calls, funky hair-does, and striking looks. Quality new birds kept coming right up until the end with one bird found during our final hours of birding – a neon male Green Broadbill – sneaking into the top five bird list at the last minute.

We also enjoyed a healthy batch of mammals – 33 mammal species in total – including a herd of super-confiding Bornean (Pygmy) Elephants before we had even reached the lodge at Sukau, several sightings of Borneo’s flagship animal, the “old man of the forest” or Orang-Utan, one of which was seen building a night nest for its young baby clasped to its chest, literally dozens of Proboscis Monkeys along the Kinabatangan River which provided the greatest entertainment when seen leaping into the river from a great height in a far from graceful fashion, and even a shock Marbled Cat seen on two consecutive night drives at Danum (photo page before)! On top of all of that, we were also fortunate with a good run on NIGHT birds, with SIX species of owl seen, including the striking, and often elusive, Oriental Bay Owl at Sukau, and although only one frogmouth it was an exceedingly rarely seen one on the island: Large Frogmouth, seen on the banks of the Menanggol River on our final night. On top of the mammals and birds we also enjoyed some of the finest lodges in Asia with Sukau and the stunning Borneo Rainforest Lodge at Danum in particular, which both left us sad to leave not only for their surroundings, but also the wonderful food offerings like Nasi Lemak, Rendang Daging, and Mee Goreng, seemingly constantly available. I simply cannot wait to return to this wonderful island where the people and government have taken such a shine to the nature tourism market, which has thus given rise to a wonderful place to visit for those, interested in quality natural history experiences.

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